Manto – a year short of a century now


The 99th birth anniversary of Saadat Hasan Manto fell on Tuesday, May 11, 2011. Manto has been termed one of the leading writers in Urdu in the sub continent. He is best known for his short stories, ‘Bu’ (Odour), ‘Khol Do’ (Open It), ‘Thanda Gosht’ (Cold Meat), and his magnum opus, ‘Toba Tek Singh’. Manto was also a film and radio scriptwriter and a journalist.
In his short life, he published twenty-two collections of short stories, one novel, five collections of radio plays, three collections of essays, and two collections of personal sketches. Manto was tried for obscenity half a dozen times; thrice before 1947 and thrice after the partition, in Pakistan, but was never convicted. Some of his works have been translated into other languages. Manto was an acclaimed but a controversial South Asian literary figure.
He was born in Sambrala, in the Ludhiana district of the Punjab in the year 1912. As a young man, Manto began his literary career with an Urdu translation of Victor Hugo’s “The Last Days of a Condemned Man”. Going through his works, it is pretty evident that during the starting of his career; Manto was deeply influenced by French and Russian realist writers such as Hugo, Anton Chekhov and Maxim Gorky.
During the 1930s, Manto was also peripherally involved with the Indian Progressive Writers Association, which was a left-leaning literary movement that was committed to the ideals of social uplift and justice through literature. His greatest contributions to Indian literature were his mastery of the short story genre and his use of the Urdu language. After the partition of India, Manto left his home in Mumbai and migrated to Lahore in January 1948.
Although Manto’s last years in Pakistan were filled with financial hardship and failing health, they were also instrumental in the compilation of some of his greatest literary achievements. Manto died of excessive drinking that led to liver cirrhosis, in the year 1955. His death has left a vacuum in the South Asian literature genre that is still vacant.